Earnest folk - whether they are slightly puritanical "traditional conservatives" or frothing left-wing greens - tell us that the consumer society is wicked. This is either because it harms our souls or because - in some unspecified manner - in harms 'the planet'.
Well I've news for you both, the consumer society is here to stay just so long as we keep hold of the idea of liberty. I am reminded:
Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer. The maxim is so perfectly self-evident that it would be absurd to attempt to prove it.
Yet we hear always of production as the positive, pundits talk earnestly of exports as if they were more important than imports and of how we must work harder. We are enjoined to be more competitive - an utterly meaningless term. And all the while the greenies are urging us to 'consume less', to adopt a trajectory towards the rude hut and digging stick, away from the evil and sinful electrical society in which we live (and which we love).
But worst are those who would drag us back to protectionism, to industrial strategies and to a unionised labour force - to a less free society. These are the ones who fulfil the second half of the Adam Smith quote:
...in the mercantile system the interest of the consumer is almost constantly sacrificed to that of the producer; and it seems to consider production, and not consumption, as the ultimate end and object of all industry and commerce.
It isn't. We live to consume, to enjoy the bounty that our world and our creativity has made for us. To condemn 'underemployment' as some sort of curse rather than realising that it means more time for other things is the summation of this obsession with work and production.
So we must produce so we might consume. We may get pleasure from that production. But it is not our purpose here...
...our purpose here is to have the best time and the most fun we can, To eat, drink, drive fast cars, smoke cheroots, bungee jump, jet ski, knit, paint, sing, drum and throw balls. Or just to sit on the bank in the sunshine watching the world around us.
This is the consumer society. And we have it because we are free.